Celebratory gunfire (also called aerial firing or happy fire) is the shooting of a firearm into the air in celebration. It is culturally accepted in parts of the Balkans, the Middle East, the Central Asian region of Afghanistan, and the South Asian regions of Pakistan and Northern India. In regions such as Puerto Rico and other areas of the United States it is practiced illegally, especially on holidays like New Year's Eve.
Common occasions for celebratory gunfire include New Year's Day as well as the religious holidays Christmas and Eid. The practice may result in random death and injury from stray bullets. Property damage is sometimes another result of celebratory gunfire; shattered windows and damaged roofs are often found after such celebrations.
Bullets fired into the air usually fall back with terminal velocities much lower than their muzzle velocity when they leave the barrel of a firearm. Nevertheless, people can be injured, sometimes fatally, when bullets discharged into the air fall back down to the ground. Bullets fired at angles less than vertical are more dangerous, as the bullet maintains its angular ballistic trajectory, is far less likely to engage in tumbling motion, and so travels at speeds much higher than a bullet in free fall.
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 80% of celebratory gunfire-related injuries are to the head, feet, and shoulders. In Puerto Rico, about two people die and about 25 more are injured each year from celebratory gunfire on New Year's Eve, the CDC says. Between the years 1985 and 1992, doctors at the King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, treated some 118 people for random falling-bullet injuries. Thirty-eight of them died.
Firearms expert Julian Hatcher studied falling bullets in the 1920s and calculated that .30 caliber rounds reach terminal velocities of 90 m/s (300 feet per second or 204 miles per hour). A bullet traveling at only 61 m/s (200 feet per second) to 100 m/s (330 feet per second) can penetrate human skin.
In 2005, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) ran education campaigns on the dangers of celebratory gunfire in Serbia and Montenegro. In Serbia, the campaign slogan was "every bullet that is fired up, must come down."
Bullets often lodge in roofs, causing minor damage that requires repair in most cases. Normally, the bullet will penetrate the roof surface through to the roof deck, leaving a hole where water may run into the building and cause a leak.
- Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III noted the drop in stray bullet injuries, in that country, during the 2005 year-end holiday period – from 33 cases to 19.
- The number of complaints regarding random shooting in Dallas, Texas, on New Year's Eve declined from approximately 1,000 in 1999 to 800 each in 2001 and 2002.
- In early 2008, increased partisanship in Lebanon led to the practice of firing celebratory gunfire in support when politicians appeared on local television, leading to multiple deaths and to calls from these leaders to end the practice.
- April 6, 2014: A 20-year-old pregnant mother of two, Wadia Baidawi, was struck in the head and killed by a stray bullet from her neighbor’s wedding in Sidon, Lebanon.
- November 21, 2012: Following a cease-fire ending fighting with Israel, celebratory gunfire in the Gaza Strip killed a man and wounded three others.
- October 30, 2012: Twenty-three people were electrocuted after celebratory gunfire brought down a power cable during a wedding party in eastern Saudi Arabia.
- August 2012: A Kuwaiti bridegroom was killed when a friend of his accidentally shot him as he charged his gun to fire into the air in celebration.
- August 2010: 2 people were killed and 13 were injured in Jordan, as part of the yearly celebration of the announcement of the result of Tawjihi.
- July 29, 2007: At least four people were reported killed and 17 others wounded by celebratory gunfire in the capital city of Baghdad, Iraq, following the victory of the national football team in the AFC Asian Cup. Celebratory gunfire occurred despite warnings issued by Iraqi security forces and the country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who forbade the gunfire with a religious fatwā.
- July 22, 2003: More than 20 people were reported killed in Iraq from celebratory gunfire following the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay in 2003.
- July 3, 2015: A 60-year-old man, Glenn Martin, was struck in the heart by a rifle bullet while sitting at a campfire with his family at Rainbow Falls in Colorado.
- January 1, 2015: A 43-year-old man, Javier Suarez Rivera, was struck in his head and killed while watching fireworks with his family in SE Houston.
- July 4, 2013: A 7-year-old boy, Brendon Mackey, was struck in the top of his head and killed while walking with his father shortly before 9 p.m. amid a large crowd prior to the fireworks display over the Swift Creek Reservoir.
- July 4, 2012: A 34-year woman, Michelle Packard, was struck in the head and killed while watching the fireworks with her family. The police believe the shot could have come from a mile away.
- January 1, 2010: A four-year-old boy, Marquel Peters, was struck by a bullet and killed inside his church The Church of God of Prophecy in Decatur, GA. It is presumed the bullet may have penetrated the roof of the church around 12:20AM.
- December 28, 2005: A 23-year-old U.S. Army private on leave after basic training fired a 9mm pistol into the air in celebration with friends, according to police, and one of the bullets came through a fifth-floor apartment window in the New York City borough of Queens, striking a 28-year-old mother of two in the eye. Her husband found her lifeless body moments later. The shooter had been drinking the night before and turned himself in to police the next morning when he heard the news. He was charged with second-degree manslaughter and weapons-related crimes, and was later found guilty and sentenced to four to twelve years in prison.
- June 14, 1999: Arizona, A fourteen-year-old girl, Shannon Smith, was struck on the top of her head by a bullet and killed while in the backyard of her home. This incident resulted in Arizona enacting "Shannon's Law" in 2000, that made the discharge of a firearm into the air illegal
- December 31, 1994: Amy Silberman, a tourist from Boston, was killed by a falling bullet from celebratory firing while walking on the Riverwalk in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. The Police Department there has been striving to educate the public on the danger since then, frequently making arrests for firing into the air.
- July 4, 1950: Bernard Doyle was killed in his seat while attending a New York Giants game at the Polo Grounds. The bullet was determined to have been fired by Robert Peebles, a juvenile, from an apartment building some distance away on Coogan's Bluff, presumably in celebration of Independence Day.
- February 25, 2007: Five people were killed by stray bullets fired at a kite festival in Lahore, Pakistan, including a six-year-old schoolboy who was struck in the head near his home in the city's Mazang area.
- December 1859: An autopsy showed that a native servant in India, who suddenly fell dead for no apparent reason, was mortally wounded from a bullet fired from a distance too far for the shot to be heard. The falling bullet had sufficient energy to pass through the victim's shoulder, a rib, a lung, his heart and his diaphragm.
- June 6, 2013: a 42-year-old Pakistani woman was killed by a stray bullet from celebratory gunfire. The gunfire was attributed to celebrations for the election of Pakistan's prime minister Newaz Sharif. Her 19-year-old niece was also hit, and rushed to hospital in critical condition.
- January 1, 2005: A stray bullet hit a young girl during New Year celebrations in the central square of downtown Skopje, Macedonia. She died two days later. This incident led to the 2006 IANSA awareness campaign in that country.
- In the Republic of Macedonia, a person found guilty of firing off a gun during celebrations faces a jail sentence of up to ten years.
- In Pakistan, section 144 of the law is imposed to prevent aerial firing during celebrations if harm is caused, and an FIR may be registered against a person who does so. However, many cases of aerial firing go unreported.
- In the United States, crime classifications vary from a misdemeanor to a felony in different states:
- In Arizona, firing a gun into the air was raised from a misdemeanor to a felony by Shannon's law, in response to the death of a 14-year-old from a stray bullet in 1999.
- In California, discharging a firearm into the air is a felony punishable by three years in state prison. If the stray bullet kills someone, the shooter can be charged with murder.
- In Minnesota, it is illegal to discharge a firearm over a cemetery, or at or in a public transit vehicle. Additionally, local governments may regulate the discharge of a weapon within their jurisdictions.
- In Ohio, discharging a firearm or a deadly weapon in a public place is classified as disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
- In Texas, random gunfire is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum one year in jail and $4,000 fine. Anyone who injures or kills someone with a stray bullet could face more serious felony charges.
- In Wisconsin, criminal charges for this type of offense range from "endangering safety by use of a dangerous weapon" to "reckless homicide" in the event of a death, with penalties ranging from nine months to 25 years in prison."
The non-fiction U.S. cable television program MythBusters on the Discovery Channel covered this topic in Episode 50: "Bullets Fired Up" (original airdate: April 19, 2006). Special-effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman conducted a series of experiments to answer the question: "Can celebratory gunfire kill when the bullets fall back to earth?"
Using pig carcasses, they worked out the terminal velocity of a falling bullet and had a mixed result, answering the question with all three of the show's possible outcomes: Confirmed, Plausible and Busted. They tested falling bullets by firing them from both a handgun and a rifle, by firing them from an air gun designed to propel them at terminal velocity, and by dropping them in the desert from an instrumented balloon.
They found that while bullets traveling on a perfectly vertical trajectory tumble on the way down, creating turbulence that reduces terminal velocity below that which would kill, it was very difficult to fire a bullet in a near-ideal vertical trajectory. In practice, bullets were likely to remain spin-stabilized on a ballistic trajectory and fall at a potentially lethal terminal velocity. They also verified cases of actual deaths from falling bullets.
- Shaikh, Hassan Latif (29 June 2012). "Celebratory gunfire". Dawn. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
- "Campaign in Macedonia raises awareness of dangers posed by gunfire (SETimes.com)". Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- "New Year's Eve gunfire may bring jail time". United Press International. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- "New Year's Eve Injuries Caused by Celebratory Gunfire --- Puerto Rico, 2003". Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- Abdul-Alim, Jamaal (2005-12-29). "JS Online: Hold the gunfire". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- Incorvaia, A.N.; Poulos, D.M.; Jones, R.N.; Tschirhart, J.M. (2007-01-01). "Can a Falling Bullet Be Lethal at Terminal Velocity? Cardiac Injury Caused by a Celebratory Bullet" (abstract). The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 83 (1): 283–4. doi:10.1016/j.athoracsur.2006.04.046. PMID 17184680. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- Hatcher, Julian Sommerville (1962). Hatcher's Notebook. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. p. 514. ISBN 0-8117-0795-4.
- Stewart, Michael J. (2005). Head, Face and Neck Trauma: Comprehensive Management. New York: Thieme Medical Publishers. p. 189. ISBN 1-58890-308-7.
- "Shooting in the air: turning celebration into tragedy". International Action Network on Small Arms. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- "Serbs Told To Keep Guns Quiet On New Year's Eve – RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY". Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- "Professionals Topics Library : Roofs & Bullets". Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- Javellana-Santos, Julie. "3 Killed, Over 600 Injured in Philippine Year-End Revelry". Arab News. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- Ayed, Nahlah (2008-04-15). "Mideast Dispatches: Deadly merriment, the fallout from celebratory gunfire". CBC News. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Mohammed Zaatari (2014-04-07). "Sidon demands security after stray-bullet death". The Daily Star, Lebanon. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
- "Man killed by celebratory gunfire in Gaza". Ma'an News Agency. 22 November 2011.
- "Celebratory gunfire at Saudi wedding cuts cable, 23 electrocuted". Reuters. 2012-10-31. Retrieved 2012-10-31.
- "Celebratory fire kills Kuwaiti groom at wedding". AFP. 22 August 2012.
- "Jordanian King Goes to War Over Celebratory Gunfire". Green Prophet. 2010-08-20. Retrieved 2012-11-06.
- Burton, Randy (2007-07-31). "Raining bullets in the Middle East". The StarPhoenix. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- "Gunshots celebrate Iraq soccer win, leave 4 dead". Associated Press. AM New York. 2007-07-30. p. 9.
- "Soccer underdogs unite Iraqis". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- Rowe, Kellie (2012-07-08). "Student shot at fireworks show, died next morning". The State News. Retrieved 2013-06-06.
- "Falling Bullet Kills 4-Year-Old Boy In DeKalb". wsbtv.com. 2010-01-02. Retrieved 2012-01-13.
- "Stray bullet kills S Asian expat". BBC NEWS. 2005-12-31. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- Kilgannon, Corey (2005-12-31). "Soldier Charged in Shooting Death of Woman at Window". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- Meenan, Mick (2006-06-01). "Metro Briefing : New York: Queens: Ex-Private Gets 4 To 12 Years For Manslaughter". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- "History Of The New Orleans Police Department". Archived from the original on February 10, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
- "Mystery Bullet Kills Baseball Fan In Midst of Crowd at Polo Grounds". The New York Times. July 5, 1950. Retrieved September 2015. Check date values in:
- "Mystery Shot Kills Baseball Fan in Crowd of 49,000". Chicago Tribune. July 5, 1950. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
- "Boy Confesses Firing Shot into Polo Grounds". The Day (New London). July 8, 1950. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
- "11 Dead At Pakistani Kite Festival, Metal Kite Strings, Stray Celebratory Gunfire Claim Lives At Annual Event, More Than 100 Injured". CBS News. 2007-02-26. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- Longmore, Thomas (1895). Gunshot Injuries, Their History, Characteristic Features, Complications, and General Treatment. Longmans, Green.
- "Celebratory gunfire kills woman". IOL News. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
- "Bala perdida mata a una niña de tres años". Retrieved 2012-12-27.
- "Celebratory Gunfire". Citizens For A Safer Minnesota. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
- "4th of July Gunfire Reduction Program". Official web site of the Los Angeles Police Department. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
- "New Years' Eve Gunfire Can Be Deadly". MyMotherLode.com News. Clarke Broadcasting Corporation. 2002-12-31. Archived from the original on 2006-11-30.
- "WTAW News Talk 1620 – News Archives". Retrieved 2007-08-02.[dead link]
- "Discovery Channel :: Mythbusters: Episode Guide". StarPhoenix. CanWest Interactive. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
- "Annotated Mythbusters: Episode 50: Bullets Fired Up, Vodka Myths III". Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- "Falling bullets: terminal velocities and penetration studies", by L. C. Haag, Wound Ballistics Conference, April 1994, Sacramento, California.
- UN Development Programme activity report
- Can a bullet fired into the air kill someone when it comes down? The Straight Dope
- Celebratory Gunfire: Good Idea or Not?
- 'Celebratory' shot kills groom
- Spreading the Word About Dangers of Celebratory Gunfire: Henry Louis Adams
- Minister Fighting to End Celebratory Gunfire